Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses: Junky Star


RIYL: The Black Crowes, Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Bob Dylan

Many know Bingham only from “The Weary Kind,” his deep country Oscar-winning song from “Crazy Heart” that he wrote with producer T Bone Burnett. But Bingham’s sophomore effort, 2009’s Roadhouse Sun, was a critically acclaimed rock ‘n’ roll album, and rightly so. That album – as well as his excellent 2007 debut Mescalito – was produced by ex-Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford. It was clear that Bingham and Ford shared a taste for mixing rock and country elements into some tasty Americana sounds. Both albums were a mix of high energy rock tracks with some low-key, yet compelling country/blues tunes.

It’s therefore puzzling to see Rolling Stone’s Mark Kemp taking Bingham to task for not being more like Billy Joe Shaver, and giving Junky Star just 2.5 stars. Kemp should be immediately relieved of album review duties, because Junky Star is one of 2010’s best. It features Burnett in the producer’s chair, bringing his patented old school blues production techniques, so the sound is fab but it’s not quite as rocking as the first two albums. But this is still Bingham’s show and the album includes some of his best rock songs yet. Is he seeking to tap further into the country crossover market? Perhaps. But anyone who’s caught the live headlining show from Bingham and his Dead Horses knows this is a rock ‘n’ roll band at its core.

Album opener “The Poet” draws the listener in with a laid back vibe, with Bingham’s soulful voice backed mainly by just acoustic guitar and harmonica. It’s one of the most unique voices in music today, like a genuine cowboy (Bingham spent time on the professional rodeo circuit before moving into music) but with the soul of a hippie. The band kicks in for “The Wandering,” and a great band it is. The Dead Horses aren’t just sidemen, but a tight unit with chemistry. The uplifting, mid-tempo number features Bingham at his heartfelt best. “Strange Feelin’ in the Air” has a big bluesy Western sound, featuring slide guitar and more of those gritty vocals.

The title track delves back into “Crazy Heart” territory, with a bluesy, country-ish tune about love lost and feeling down and out. It’s on the somber side, but those heartfelt lonely vocals about “stumbling on the whiskey from the bar” remain compelling. “Yesterday’s Blues” and “Lay My Head on the Rail” delve into similar stripped-down country blues flavor.

A top highlight is song of the year candidate “Depression,” a gorgeously layered zeitgeist rocker about keeping it together after losing one’s job amidst the nation’s economic woes. “Hallelujah” is a highlight too, starting with rich textures before building into a mid-tempo blues catharsis. “Direction of the Wind” is another great zeitgeist rocker, an upbeat bluesy romp with slide guitar and politically-edged vocals that recall classic Bob Dylan. “Hard Worn Trail” features bluesy acoustic picking that recalls Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive,” before giving way to more of a Western soundtrack vibe. Bingham’s voice takes on a haunting quality that brings the song to life. “All Choked Up Again” closes the album with a slow but shimmering Western tune about a gambling man.

The last third of the album could use one more rocker, but there’s no one on the scene who is blending rock with country and western blues flavors like Bingham & the Dead Horses. Bingham has become one of modern music’s most intriguing troubadors precisely because of how his gritty soulful voice personifies the growing intersection between rock and country. Junky Star fuses the genres beautifully. (Lost Highway 2010)

Ryan Bingham MySpace page

  

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>